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It is one of those songs that shows itself once in a game, usually in the middle of the seventh inning. It's background is from Vaudeville and yet the people that wrote it never set foot in a stadium to hear it sung. It's the unofficial anthem of baseball. This season, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" turns 100. Like most customs of baseball, including the seventh inning stretch, allegedly invented by president William Howard Taft, has endured through the ages. The song was written from the perspective of someone not at a game. Fans are encouraged to sing along. Some usually do.
The text was were written in 1908 by Jack Norworth, who while riding a subway train, was inspired by a sign that said "Baseball Today — Polo Grounds ". The words were set to music by Albert Von Tilzer. The two men finally saw their first Major League Baseball games 32 and 20 years later, respectively. The song was first sung by Norworth's wife Nora Bayes and popularized by various vaudeville acts. Norworth wrote an alternative version of the song in 1927. Norworth, with his wife, also wrote " Shine On, Harvest Moon." The song became almost an instant hit. The sale of so many records, sheet music, and piano rolls made it one of the most popular hits of 1908.
There are two versions to the song, the 1908 version and the 1927 version. The words that we sing today are the chorus to the song (both versions).
"Take Me Out To The Ballgame" got some major air time in the 1970's, when Harry Caray first did the song during the seventh inning at Chicago White Sox games. White Sox management, including the late Bick Veeck, liked it so much, Veeck sneaked a public address microphone into Caray's broadcast booth, so that the crowd could hear's Caray's boundless enthusiasm and marginal musical talents — something that previously only his broadcast colleagues were privy to. After that, Caray began leading the crowd, leaning out the front window of his booth and swinging his microphone in time with the music. When Caray left Sox broadcasts to join the WGN team broadcasting Cubs games, the singing tradition went with him. Whether the Cubs were winning, tied or losing, he would always tell the crowd, "Alright, let me hear you, good and loud, especially loud." And off to the races was Harry!
Late in his career, when Caray missed a number of games due to a stroke, "guest conductors" did the honors; after Caray's death, the guest-conductor tradition has become a part of the Cubs tradition, with different celebrities doing the activities each game, whether it is part of Chicago sports, actors, musicians, news anchors, or fans. Some have done an outstanding job, others, such as former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka rushed through it like he was double-parked. At least Cubs fans forgave him for that sin. They weren't so kind to NASCAR racer Jeff Gordon, when he called Wrigley Field "Wrigley Stadium." Let's say the Rainbow Warrior was never invited back again for the time being.
When sung at baseball games, a variety of alternative lines are sung. Most of these center on the line "Let me root, root root for the home team;" in most Major League ballparks, the actual name of the home team is substituted for the words "home team." If a game goes to the 14th, 21st, 28th etc. innings at Wrigley Field, they will sing the song again. Ernie Banks would be proud. That has yet to happen. As a coincidence, this is also the 100th anniversary of the last Cubs World Series win, when they beat the Norworth Giants for the league championship.
In 2008, MLB will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the lyrics with various promotional activities. Baby Ruth is having a contest for fans to lead the crowd at Yankee Stadium when the song is sung at this year's All Star Game. In 2008, the USPS will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the song with a first-class rate postage stamp, tentatively scheduled to be issued in July in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of Little League Baseball.
So when you're at a ballpark this season and the seventh inning stretch comes along, do yourself proud and belt this one out. Harry would approve.